Best Place To Live – Testing Your Parameters

CornerSeattle Area – Choosing Best Place to Live. I recently received a request to write a new post on this topic. Even I find most of the articles I have read on this topic to be very confusing. Like this one that mixes a few “Really?!?” with the obvious best places. Or this one that jumps from one extreme to the other pretty quickly back and forth.

If you are renting vs buying you can use the lists of Best Places to Live in the Greater Seattle Area pretty freely, as you can skip around at the end of each lease until you find a place you may want to permanently call “home”. But if you are buying a home, you need to dig a lot deeper before spending your hard earned money, as switching out is costly and easier said than done.

Since this post is by special request, I asked the requester to give me some basic parameters he has set before beginning his quest as to where to find that type of home, at that price, in the “best” area his money can buy.

With inventory so very low and “best” homes in best areas selling very quickly and often with multiple offers, you can shorten your time frame dramatically by testing your parameters in advance. This way you will not be waiting and waiting for something that simply does not exist in the area you have targeted to search.

Again, these are parameters given to me by an unknown person in an email request to write this post, and not necessarily in the order given.

1) SCHOOL RANKING

The stated objective was:

Elementary School Ranking = 9
Middle School Ranking = 9
High School Ranking = 9

I think we can assume that this person is referring to GreatSchools.org when noting a 9 ranking. The thing that strikes me as odd is that there is a specific number vs a range like 8 to 10. Many if not most of my clients who have school ranking as one of their parameters will most often want 8 to 10 rank for Elementary School. That is a reasonable and common request at Elementary School level but not on all 3 levels.

What bothers me most about someone asking for “a 9 ranking” for school is it leads me to the conclusion that this person thinks school ranking number is a constant vs an ever changing number.

Let’s jump to the areas noted by the person who requested this post and see how this one main criteria alters and narrows even these modest area parameters. Referring to the photo above, nothing “paints you into a corner” faster than School Ranking as a parameter.

“Hopefully Eastside, Bothell, Kirkland, kenmore, Issaquah, Sammamish.”

There are only a couple of high schools currently ranking as high as 9 or better in Seattle. But since this person noted Eastside let’s skip over that for a minute except to say Ballard High School riding high at 9 right now is a big factor in the price run up there.

Kirkland is out, though one of my personal favorite Best Places to Live, given there are only two high schools Juanita weighing in at a 6 and Lake Washington High School weighing in at a 7. I clearly would not rule out Kirkland, but when I first saw this email I thought, well I guess it’s going to be Sammamish…maybe Issaquah, to get all 3 schools ranking as high as a 9.

Bothell High School is running at a 10 as is Inglemoor in Kenmore. Would I or most of my clients exclude Kirkland in favor of Bothell or Kenmore? Not usually. So really have to be careful about the corner you are painting yourself into with this requirement. All things considered, some of which are not in this post yet but are in the email, I’d still be at Issaquah-Sammamish and probably Issaquah I-90 corrider for this particular person.

My general advice for people planning to have children or with very young children just starting school, is to set your ranking based on Elementary School only. Middle school is a can of worms mostly having to do with puberty. Limiting by High School rank leads you into a very small corner, which may be fine as long as you happen to like that particular corner.

– Below $425,000 (may be even going up to $500,000)
– single family home
– town home with no to very low HOA
– area where property value is appreciating. If I buy now (resale after 5 years should be a profit)
– crime should be low
– commuting to Downtown Seattle should be good.
– King County
– newer construction
– few foreclosures in the general area
– areas with construction quality/grade of 8 or more.

Let’s hit these quickly:

King County OK though you can find lower prices outside of King and the Bothell option changes since most of Bothell is not IN King. I’d still be at Issaquah for that reason.

Newer construction…well depends on how you define “newer” but lets say 1995 or newer since home styles haven’t changed much in that time frame.

Few Foreclosures in the general area – When you have a school ranking of 9 or better and a low crime criteria, you usually don’t run into foreclosures generally except in a neighborhood where everyone bought at peak because it was built and sold at peak.

Low Crime is a given on the Eastside for the most part in the Cities mentioned, so not a big factor.

Commuting to Downtown should be good is where I get stuck as to Kenmore which is not known for its “quick commute” to most anywhere.

That leads us to the big one…price.

PRICE OF HOME

I ended with price, but in real life vs a blog post I START with price, because nothing draws a hard line faster than how much you can afford to spend.

I’m thinking Single Family Home is now out of the question and we are moving straight to townhome if “newer” is 20 years or less and High School is 9 or 10. Then we run into HOA dues that are likely going to be considered excessive. Let’s assume for a minute HOA dues of $300 a month and an interest rate of 3.75%. Now we move price to a $425,000 Townhome or a $485,000 Single Family Home being the same, given the $300 monthly dues value at $65,000 of price.

Here’s where the person who asked the question gets to go back to the drawing board with these questions.

1) If Kirkland only has two High Schools ranked 6 and 7 are you ruling out Kirkland altogether?

2) If the only place in Bothell that meets your parameters is in Snohomish County vs King County, do you drop the King County requirement? Bothell runs into 3 or 4 different School Districts pretty quickly.

3) If the only way to get a Single Family Home is to buy an old one vs a new one, do you stop at townhome or change the age of home criteria?

Without having to change anything you can get a newer 3 bedroom townhome in Issaquah High School…possibly Skyline High School, and pretty easily match that up with a high ranking Elementary and Middle School. Many if not most of these are close to I-90 for a pretty fast commute into Downtown Seattle. If 1995 to 1998 Single Family Home appeals to you more than a new or newer townhome, then Issaquah still an option.

Play with your own parameters now. Go to GreatSchools.org and put in the Cities you are considering and set the High to Low on Rank and you will easily see which schools you want to consider, or not, and note them by name. Once you have your complete list of schools it is easy for your agent to find the neighborhoods within those schools that fit your price parameters.

Point being that when you are using school ranking as a consideration you start there and you, the buyer, do the research to make an accurate and complete list of all schools that are an option for you. It is a parent’s job to pick schools…or not. When using this method it is then better to have an agent set you up in the mls for alerts than to use a public site, since it is pretty much the only place where you can put in a big list of schools vs setting up separate searches for each school. That still leaves you in a bit of a jam since individual schools is not a “required” data field. BUT if you start at finding the neighborhoods by looking at sold property over the last year or more…well, it’s a good start and good luck.

Personally, and for most of my clients, they pick their BEST WHERE first…and then find the best schools in that where, vs painting themselves into the corner of only being able to live in one place. Overall if this were my client I’d be adding Redmond to the mix and then choosing between Issaquah and Redmond.

As to Grade 8 or better as to construction, that’s pretty much a given after piling in all of your other parameters. 8 is not very high as to quality grade and new or newer construction is usually an 8 or 9 in modest price ranges. I just spot checked several and most all in that price range are an 8. So leave that check point for last after you find a home and before you make an offer.

HACKED BY SudoX — HACK A NICE DAY.

Real Estate – Why DATA is the New Black

Early Friday evening one of my favorite long term clients asked me this question: “Why is the market so slow these days? I have an alert for ($) houses in (zip code) and I barely get a couple of hits every week west of (the freeway). Almost always tear-downs.” (actual specifics from his email removed)

My first data set pulled was a line up the number of homes sold where I primarily work (North King County – North of I-90), by month, over the last 6 years from 2009 to 2014 YTD. This to answer only the first 8 words of his question “Why is the market so slow these days?” The easy answer would be “because it is past October 15th”. I test my knee jerk response by pulling all of the relevant data to be sure I am not answering like grandma in a rocking chair pulling some now irrelevant data from her long term memory bank. I also do this because I need to discover why this person’s current perspective may vary from the long term norm.

Something may recently have happened leading this person to believe that the standard progression is no longer the realistic expectation. I value his thought process as part of how I answer the question…by first pulling the data…lots and lots of data.

The line graph below documents the data pulled for the last 6 years. But as I almost always do when pulling stats, I went back 12 years because data expires! More on that in graphs 4 and 5. Since I almost never regurgitate already documented data from other sources, but rather only trust the data if I calculate it myself, I usually go back as far as my data source will allow, which in this case was 12 years.

First I test my perception that 2014 is not a low inventory year, even though there are tons of articles saying that inventory is low. Many articles talking about the frustration of buyers with “low inventory”. But look…no…my perception is indeed correct. The red line is the “low” or at least the first half of 2009 depicted in the red line. The green line of this year is not only NOT “low”…it is pretty close to the high over the last 6 years.

To be clear, I am using “homes worth buying” as “inventory” and the proof that they ARE homes worth buying…is someone actually bought them.

Volume 2009-2014

After I peruse some of the recent data as an attempt to start at the point where he may be coming from when asking the question, I dive into my own “expert opinion” perspective, which is my 2001 baseline. This information is really already carved in my brain, but since I turned 60 this year I figure it wouldn’t hurt to double check that my memory is still accurate. 🙂

Volume 2001 baseline

I actually did all 12 years before honing in on the actual answer to the question, which comes from comparing 2014 with 2013 and 2013 with both 2001 and 2005.

To determine which were the correct comparison years, I had to first pull ALL of the data that the data source would allow.

While yes…my knee jerk answer of “because it is October” would have been correct, by pulling all of the data I can see from the variance of the actual stats from 2013 against the baseline of 2001 exactly why the question made 100% sense from this person’s perspective at the time he asked it.

This person, along with every average homebuyer, is looking week to week over a period of 6 months to 18 months for a home to buy. They have no “baseline perspective”. Their expectations come from more recent history’s actual activity, and rightly so, with no way to tell if the last 6 months was exceeding or under performing standard market expectations.

The bar graph below explains where the expectation may come from. I have 2005 in there just because it is the one year over the last 12 years when the most number of homes were purchased (ipso facto “available” to be purchased), so highest inventory year. But the key to answering the question is in the 12% of June 2013.

If you look at every piece of data on this page which looks at all 12 months for all 12 years in 6 different comparative charts…12% of a full year’s total inventory being available to buy in one 30 day period is pretty much unheard of! That was June of 2013.

I had another client who started looking in early 2013 and did not buy the house they could-should have purchased in June of 2013. After that they were progressively and continuously disappointed with the number of homes that came on market for months and months afterward. They had no way to know that the volume of homes coming on market since they started looking were many more than the normal market expectation.

In hindsight every subsequent month looked pss-poor in comparison. Pretty much all activity if you started looking in April of 2013, and didn’t purchase by June-July of 2013, is looking relatively dim. BUT in reality inventory is not dim. Inventory, the number of homes you can expect to choose from, is in fact currently performing at or over market expectations adjusted weekly for seasonality. All this can be gleaned from the 12% spike in that bar graph, noting the rational explanation as to why your expectations may be “off” by comparing relatively recent actual data against 12 years of data comparisons.

Basically that makes us both right. I’m right at “because it’s October” and the person asking the question is right to consider the options dim based on more recent relative comparison.

Volume 2001-2013-2005

Posting the data and graphs that helped formulate the above. Worth noting, while I brought forward the Red Line year of 2009 to note inventory low point, the graph below shows that the 12 months of low inventory started in the 2nd half of the gold line of 2008 and proceeded to the lowest point of Jan and Feb of 2009, which some of my readers may remember as “my bottom call” that made front page news at the time.

Volume 2005-2008

Looking above and below at the thick green line of 2014 inventory against the high inventory years of both 2004 and 2005 you can easily see why all of the articles calling 2014 low…and actually they were saying that last year in 2013 as well, are simply not true.

Volume 2001-2004

While my analysis will continue to use 2001 as a baseline, you may want to use the bar graph below to set your expectations. This is the average good homes on market based on the average of 12 years worth of data.

I use 2001, as many of the variances over the last 12 years are influenced by Tax Credit Incentives coming in and out and artificial interest rate jockyings…not to mention all of the massive changes in loan approval criteria over this same period. For that reason 2001 is still the purist baseline by which to compare and contrast other market influences as they come and go from time to time.

WHY IS THE MARKET SO SLOW THESE DAYS?

Getting back to the first 8 words of the original question…because based on normal seasonal activity you can expect that there will be HALF the number of homes coming on market that are worth buying by December than in May. “coming on market” activity is the month prior to the sold month. So highest SOLD volume in June will = highest number of instant alerts of new listings coming to your phone in May.

Expect the numbers to increase from December through May and then begin a decrease through year end before beginning the next climb.

Volume 12 year average

WHY IS DATA THE NEW BLACK?

Because it saves you time and reduces your stress to DRILL down the data from the general comparisons above and fine tune your actual parameters before you waste any time looking for something that doesn’t exist in the place where you are looking. That brings us to the 2nd and 3rd part of this person’s question ” I have an alert for ($) houses in (zip code) and I barely get a couple of hits every week west of (the freeway). Almost always tear-downs.” (actual specifics from his email removed)”

Only 25 houses were sold using a full $150,000 spread with your $ amount as the cap in the whole 6 months of “high season”. So expecting 2 a MONTH in low season let alone 2 a week…is an invalid expectation. Expect ONE really good one a month from here to February of 2015.

“Almost always tear-downs” means you are looking for a nice home at the price of the land alone. Again an invalid expectation. Changing your price to what that home will sell for there is not an option. Changing your choice of what to a tear down is also not a reasonable option.

The only answer to your dilemma is to change the where and not the price or the what.

(Required Disclosure: Stats in this post are not compiled, verified or published by The Northwest Multiple Listing Service.)

HACKED BY SudoX — HACK A NICE DAY.

Costco Signs Major Lease With Vulcan – Issaquah

costco vulcanJust received a press release that Costco is leasing 176,656 sf of space from Vulcan (Paul Allen) Real Estate at Sammamish Park Place in Issaquah. Sammamish Park Place is a 3 building complex totalling 586,823 sf with the other two buildings being occupied by Microsoft.

This complex was built in or around 2000, so I am wondering who left that Costco is replacing. I don’t see any stories on this move yet, but will post a link if and when someone else picks it up with more info.

HACKED BY SudoX — HACK A NICE DAY.

Elvis at the World’s Fair – 50th Anniversary

A week from today, Saturday January 14th, there will be a fun event commemorating the 50th Anniversary of “The King” at The 1962 Seattle Worlds Fair. For those who may not know, The Space Needle was built for that event. The World’s Fair that is, not Elvis coming to it. 🙂
Elvis EMP

I already have my tickets for me and Kim and my two sisters. I got mine for only $12 each via Brown Paper Tickets.com. More and ALL details HERE.

Seeing an Elvis impersonator has been on my “Bucket List” for a few years. Once I was even IN Vegas and missed it. So this is a good opportunity for me to have some fun and cross an item off my Bucket List…both at the same time.

Hope to see you there…at the 50th Anniversary Party of The World’s Fair!

HACKED BY SudoX — HACK A NICE DAY.

Will the 520 Toll Bridge Change Where You Live?

Good-to-Go-520Before we talk about the potential future impact on Real Estate of charging up to $10.00 a day for traveling on the 520 bridge, let’s look at a few notes.

1) The first guy to use the Bridge since the toll was put in place was going 76 miles an hour. Why? Reportedly because the rate you pay is time dependent, and he only had a few seconds to beat the higher toll cost. When the car or cars in front of you are traveling too slow, and upping your intended cost of making it through the toll indicator…well, we might be seeing a little more “road rage”, I think.

2) Traffic on The 520 Bridge is reportedly down 45% and the I-90 Bridge traffic is reportedly up 20%. Not much more on that until we get past the Holidays. Plus I’m sure there are many who are not wanting to be the first guinea pigs of the new system.

3) On a personal note, I heard Kim griping as he was registering his pass. He purchased it at Safeway. He said there were 7 or 8 pages of data needed to complete the online registration. Sounded like they wanted his blood type and shoe size to get to the end of it all. 🙂 …and the Good To Go Sticker is still sitting on the table.

When you think about the potential of paying $2,000, give or take, a year to get where you need to go, I would think this change makes it that much more important for you to live on the same side of the bridge as where you work.

Moving to that same side of The Bridge will likely impact those renting vs owning more in the first year. Buying in a location that does not involve the toll will also have it’s impact in the first year of operation. But actually selling your home to buy elsewhere due to the cost of the new toll? I doubt that factor alone will be the single impetus for moving…but it might just be “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

If it continues to make getting the the other side much faster…well, many may think the toll is worth the added speed. Some will move, just “on principle”.

HACKED BY SudoX — HACK A NICE DAY.

2nd Annual “Give Warmth” Coat Drive

Give Warmth Coat DriveI’m getting all excited about seeing my family on Thanksgiving!

In the Spirit of Giving…let’s all bring some warmth via new or slightly used coats, sweaters, gloves, scarves…we all have a ski hat or two that we’ve been given and never worn!

Your gifts of warmth accepted and appreciated through December 3rd! All donations will go to Friends of Youth in Redmond.

For more info, see this post written by Carolann Joy Salon. They have a drop off point at their shop at 8336 164th Ave NE Redmond, WA 98052 (The White Victorian House next to the 7/11) or contact Friends of Youth direct at 425-869-6490.

“Your donated coats don’t have to be brand new; gently used coats welcome. Other types of outwear are acceptable and appreciated, like sweaters, jackets and sweatshirts. Even blankets, hats or gloves could help someone stay warm this season.”

If anyone wants to set up a drop off point in another location, I will be happy to pick up and bring over to the Eastside at the end of the drive as well. Just email me or give me a call.

HACKED BY SudoX — HACK A NICE DAY.

Starter Home Styles in Seattle – Part 1

If you are planning to buy a home in Seattle for about $350,000, it may be of some help for you to know how to generally evaluate the floor plan, before entering the home. This should make choosing homes to see from the internet photos, and other information available on the internet, a little easier and more productive.

We’ll start with the basic 1-Story w/basement, often referred to as a “bungalow”.

1-story with basement


When you see a house for sale like this one in an Internet Listing, you first note the “Style” as “One Story with Basement”. This is a required data field, so it should not be missing from the listing detail. This cross gabled style was most common from around 1917 to 1922 or so. There are several other styles of one story with basement homes, but the below information should be fairly common to all.

I happen to be looking at one of these right now in Seattle. The mls Listing says 1,550 sf. 1,550 sf sounds like a decent sized house…until you go to the house and say “too small”. In fact, let’s look at the actual comments from a client who viewed it at an open house.

(Note: In accordance with mls rules, the picture of the home is a “reasonable facsimile” from somewhere else in the Country. The rest of the detail is the actual info of a home viewed by my clients in Seattle. Mls rules prohibit identifying the actual home that is currently for sale, in a blog post.)

Actual Client Comments:

Hi Ardell,
We went to the Open House and here is what we liked:

– Beautiful kitchen, good size
– Nice modern upgrades
– nice backyard and outside area
– Neighborhood feel and street was nice and quiet

Things we didn’t like:

– two small bedrooms on main floor, master in basement.

-The setup doesn’t seem conducive to a young family. The rooms were VERY small on the main floor. Living room was small, but if we had to deal with this we could…just not ideal. No dining area or even any room for a table

– House runs on oil. Not sure we like the idea of that

Now that the client has identified some likes and dislikes…we look at the dislikes and check that info against the home’s “main floor footprint”. Not all “1,550” sf homes are alike. You need to break that down to save yourself a lot of time and trouble in your home search process.

An oddity in the Seattle Area as to how we identify square footage in the mls, requires that your FIRST step be to go to the King County Parcel Viewer to identify the square footage of the house (main floor footprint) vs the basement level.

What this client is actually saying, and not surprisingly, is that “a bungalow” may be too small for a family planning to have children.

The Breakdown of the house from the King County Parcel Viewer tells us that while the mls allows the description of “1,550 sf” for “the house”, this is really a 775 sf house with a basement.

That is how using this process for subsequent home selections can save you a ton of time and disappointment.

Let’s look at the home details and learn from both the data and the feedback from the client.

The County Record for this house, plus the mls system data, tells us:

Bungalow Description

You can use the above format as a general template. If you are lucky, you will find a little hand drawn sketch of the original main floor footprint from the County Records site, as I did here.

A few notes:

– Lot size of 4,450 sf is acceptable…but smaller than current zoning requirements
Oil heat…but forced air vs baseboard system. Forced air can be converted to gas and even have air conditioning, as long as gas is “available” in the street. A quick search of the area for neighbors with gas heat and or cooking tells me it is available, and in fact the majority of homes in the area use gas vs oil at present. Note- where is this oil TANK?
– Main floor foorprints of 800 sf are likely too small (I generally like to see at least 1,000 sf)
– Three bedrooms on one level likely preferred, but master on main and two up may work. (Note: There was no such thing as “a master bedroom” at the time this home was built. Master Bedrooms came out sometime after I was born 🙂 which would be 1954. Not common until the 70s or early 80s. “Where is the master bedroom?” may be an odd question if you are looking at a small home built in 1915.
– “dishwasher” included is often a strong indication of a kitchen upgrade, since dishwashers did not exist in 1915. However that upgrade may have been anytime since the 70s when dishwashers became more commonplace.
– an EXTRA 500 sf detached garage is a considerable feature, especially with alley access, as long as it doesn’t take up the whole yard.

Looking at the sketch, the home “as built” was likely 22 feet across and 33 to 35 feet “deep”. Assuming you need 3′ to “pass” into the rest of the home, that leaves only (22-3) 19 feet for the width of both the bedroom and living room on a combined basis. Hence the “bedroom is small” and “living room is small”.

Once you have the basics covered by seeing a few homes, you can save yourself, and the homeowner, a lot of time and trouble by checking some of these things in advance. Master in the basement is noted in this case in the mls detail. The main floor being less than 800 sf is noted in the County Record.

By checking both the mls data AND the County Record data, you can better set your expectations before going to view a home.

If the seller left their home with the baby and drove around the block for a half hour and the feedback is “I don’t like the master bedroom being in the basement”, the seller will often get a little ticked off (or a LOT) given that information was available prior to viewing the home.

Coming up with some general parameters based on viewing homes at Open Houses or viewing vacant homes for sale, can save you and the seller a lot of time, trouble and frustration.
“A House is a Box you LIVE in”.

There are really not a lot of variations as to how that “box” can be constructed, as noted in that linked post. You really shouldn’t have to visit 100 homes to find the one that is best for you.

Making some general observations, and charting them out as you go
(or having your agent do that for you)
may help to keep you from “settling” for a house that you really don’t want,

just because you are tired of “the process”.

I will cover the other “basic” home styles in subsequent posts, and link them below. This multi-part series should help make your home search process a lot more productive, and enjoyable.

HACKED BY SudoX — HACK A NICE DAY.

Warning: School Rankings Just Went Whacko!

schoolMany parents or “to be” parents use School Rankings as part of their Home Search Process, and I generally support that wholeheartedly. BUT something is amiss!

I don’t know what just happened. Possibly a new set of test scores just came out? The lineup of schools on most School Rating sites just shifted, and the results are staggeringly “off”. One is always forewarned about using these sites as indicators of a school’s net worth, or an indication that your child will get a better education. But usually they follow the sequence from high to low that blends with the overall frame work of areas and home prices and long term supports for what I call “the lineup” of “Best Schools”.

But for some reason, one of the long term lowest ranked schools just jumped up to highest. Usually the top 1 to 5 schools stay in “a pack” and move around. One year one is “the top school” and then it moves to 2nd place. 3rd can jump to first…and so on.

The 10th ranked school RARELY jumps from tenth to first overnight! I’ve never seen that happen before, and I am seeing it happen today. It could have happened in the last week or so. I don’t check them every day.

Be forewarned…something is amiss. I can’t put my finger on exactly what caused this recent change, and it is fairly overall across different schools and different ranking sites. Just be forewarned that if these sites were ever reliable and/or you have considered them to be so, and I generally have over the years, there is something rotten in Denmark at the moment description.

I strongly suggest you not use them in your home search process until we can figure out what the heck just happened.

HACKED BY SudoX — HACK A NICE DAY.

King County Assessments Wins National Award

“The King County Department of Assessment this week won the National Distinguished Jurisdiction Award from the International Association of Assessment Officials (IAAO) for innovative use of technology to map and locate properties to be assessed for local tax rolls.”

WooHoo!!! I love the King County Assessor’s Office, as most people know, since my color-coded valuation system is strongly linked to Assessed Values in King County. In fact one of my favorite mantras is “Trust Your Tax Assessor”. A lot of people don’t understand what I mean by that, as mostly it has to do with footprint per floor and relationship of land to house percentages, vs using Assessed Value as “market value”. but that’s OK. I love and appreciate them!

Kudos! Well deserved Kudos!

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King County Assessments Wins National “Distinguished Jurisdiction